The way Champions League teams look when the competitions starts and the way things lineup a few months later at the end of the group stage are completely different more often than not, but when taking a first glance at the teams in the competition, there are 10 that look like the most likely candidates to go all the way and win the competition: Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Napoli.
Keep in mind that some of these teams are grouped together, and the Arsenal-Dortmund-Napoli group means that one of the top 10 sides in the competition will be dropped after six matches, and yet when it comes to the 10 strongest teams beginning the journey, all three of them are worth mentioning.
10 – Napoli
Drawn into a very difficult group, Napoli might not make it out into the round of 16, but they have a few things working for them heading into their second Champions League experience. Rafa Benitez might not be a fan favorite among Inter or Chelsea fans, but he has led teams to three European titles over the years and another final. Napoli have started out the season very strong in Italy with three wins and a red hot Gonzalo Higuain (2 goals) partnered with an even hotter Maresk Hamsik, finally looking like the midfielder half of Europe should be chasing. A strong defense and additions like Callejon make them a very dangerous team, with an outside chance to make the quarterfinals.
9 – Manchester United
Why so low? Manchester United haven’t been to the quarterfinals for the last couple of years, so there’s that. The other issues are a very bad situation on the wings, with some of them either inexperienced (like Zaha) or the others simply not good enough, like Nani or Ashley Young. Add an inexperienced manager who seems to be slightly in over his head early on, and you’d think that an old defense along with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie shouldn’t be enough to do too much, although it’ll be surprising not to see them among the final 8.
8 – Arsenal
Yes, better than United, at least when it comes to the lineup. Arsenal do have some depth problems, as Olivier Giroud doesn’t have real cover at striker and the same goes for Theo Walcott, but they have an extremely talented midfield that could put Arsenal back on the map in terms of contending for the Premier League and looking beyond the Champions League quarterfinals.
7 – Paris Saint-Germain
PSG should look better as the season goes on, but adding Cavani and not a different player might have been a mistake, while letting Sakho leave and keeping Alex as an integral part of the defense could also cost PSG. Still, this is one of the deepest teams in the competition, who made the quarterfinals last year and didn’t lose in both matches against Barcelona.
6 – Chelsea
The biggest advantage Chelsea have is their manager. Even though he has too big of an ego and mouth, he is that good, but he might not have a good enough, and most importantly balanced enough squad. The attacking midfield is loaded with talent, but he has a serious problem at the striker position and in the defensive midfield. It should be enough for a quarter final, but beyond that it’s hard to see Chelsea doing too well.
5 – Juventus
If Juventus have finally solved their striker problem by bringing in Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, while Gianluigi Buffon won’t cost them points with quite silly mistakes he’s been making recently, Juventus will be one of the more complete sides we’ll see in Europe this season.
4 – Real Madrid
Real Madrid will look better as the season goes on, because they have too good of a team not to. Carlo Ancelotti might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s an excellent Champions League manager, with two titles and another final. Gareth Bale will eventually find his place on the team, and Isco will make them slightly forget about Mesut Ozil leaving.
3 – FC Barcelona
With Barcelona, it’s impossible not to consider them going all the way, even if they still have the same defensive problem they had last year. Neymar should make it harder to focus just on Lionel Messi, and Cesc Fabregas looks like he’s about to have his best season for Los Cules as well.
2 – Bayern Munich
Even if Bayern Munich aren’t playing at the level they were last season, their Super Cup win over Chelsea was proof enough that when everyone is healthy and especially Javi Martinez is playing, this team is very hard to figure out. Pep Guardiola might be arrogant, but he’s a smart enough manager to know when things aren’t working, and he probably has the most talented overall squad in Europe at the moment.
1 – Borussia Dortmund
Right now, no one in Europe is playing better. They lost Mario Gotze, but the rise of Marco Reus and the arrivals of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang more than make up for that. They made the finals last year, and they might be one the most well gelled teams in Europe. Sure, it’s going to be a bumpy road, but they have the experience of reaching the final and being minutes away from winning it. Right now, no one looks better than they do.